The Instigator
Vlast
Pro (for)
Winning
42 Points
The Contender
clsmooth
Con (against)
Losing
24 Points

Environmental Regulations

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/20/2007 Category: Politics
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,917 times Debate No: 718
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (10)
Votes (22)

 

Vlast

Pro

The environment is vitally important. We humans, however, have wreaked havoc beyond imagination on all living systems. We have polluted Earth in ways unimaginable even 200 years ago. Nuclear weapons, persistent organic compounds, habitat destruction, and global warming, along with a whole host of other man-made environmental disasters, are ravaging our one and only home.
Humans are directly responsible for this. More specifically, our way of living is responsible for this. We consume, consume, consume, without regard to the waste and abuse we are leveraging on our planet. Businesses and industries must be made to comply with basic environmental standards. These standards are the only glimmer of hope in a foggy sea of depressing environmental news. They need to be strengthened, not weakened, as many conservatives suggest.
Anyone feel capable of debating that we don't need environmental regulations? Step right up!
clsmooth

Con

We don't need environmental regulations. In fact, the presence of "regulations" is the cause for environmental degradation. Regulations are, after all, permissions given by the government for one entity to pollute the property of others.

Instead, we need strict enforcement of property rights. Under such a regime, you would be perfectly free to spoil your own land -- at your own cost. But you would not ever have the right to pollute your neighbor's land without his consent. There would thus be a zero-tolerance policy for pollution.

The liberal / socialist may say, "but under this type of system, rich people and corporations would buy land and destroy it." False. The value that can be extracted from land can NEVER exceed the value of the land itself -- it is a mathematical and economic impossibility. If there are $2 million of oil reserves under your property, then your property is worth $2 million plus. It can never be worth less than $2 million, and it can never be profitable to spend money in the reckless pursuit of that $2 million in reserves, since to do so would result in net revenues of less than $2 million.

Under a libertarian regime of absolute property rights, any activity that violated the property rights of others would be punishable at both the civil-tort and criminal levels. One could not pollute the air unless the pollution could be confined to one's own air space (impossible), and one could not pollute the water unless the pollution stayed in one's own water and did not violate the property rights of other land owners.

Under such a regime, environmentalist groups would be able to "save" the environment more effectively. Instead of lobbying Congress for new environmental laws, environmental groups -- which are notoriously well funded -- could spend their collective resources buying land. Then, they could manage that land in an environmentally sound manner. For example, if ANWR were privatized and sold to the highest bidder, the Siera Club and affiliated groups could buy it and ensure that drilling would never take place there. Alternatively, if drillers could muster more money to purchase the land, then this would mean that humanity valued the oil more than the unspoiled land. However, if the land were privately owned (even by drillers), then its owners would have an incentive to extract value from it in the most environmentally sound manner possible, since they would not want the land to be worthless once all of the underlying resources had been extracted. Again, land cannot possibly be worth less than the underlying resources, so the price for ANWR would have to be higher than the value of the oil that could be immediately extracted -- thus, it would be in the interests of its owners to leave a "salvageable" value to the land, and this can only be achieved through sound environmental practices.

Regulations enable polluters and pollution. They give advantages to big businesses over small, and developed countries over developing. Anyone shilling for more regulations is unknowingly (or sometimes knowingly) shilling for more pollution, unfair corporate profits, and Western hegemony.

We do not need environmental regulations.
Debate Round No. 1
Vlast

Pro

Libertarian arguments often sound good at first. When critically analyzed, however, they fall to pieces faster than a 1972 Ford Pinto. My opponent's argument is no different. Libertarians view the world and its problems far too simplistically, and they gloss over history and human nature in coming up with wrong-headed, if pleasant-sounding, explanations.

First, my opponent fails to grasp the fundamental difference between point and non-point source pollution. Basic environmental science tells us that point-source pollution comes from one, easily identified source. A factory belching smoke is a prime example. These sources of pollution are easily controlled.

The trouble is, the vast majority of pollution comes from non-point-sources. It's time to inject an anecdote: My family and I hiked to the top of Mt. Leconte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. From the top, no human settlement is visible. However, all of the trees on the summit are dead. This is due to acid rain. My opponent might say: "No problem, if that land was privately owned, the owner could just sue the big pollution factory over the next hill and the problem would be gone!" But that would not work. The acid rain comes from mainly from car and home emissions from all over the East Coast. Now, would my opponent advocate suing every car and home owner along the Atlantic Seaboard?

The largest polluters are collective groups. One car doesn't produce much sulfur dioxide (the gas mainly responsible for acid rain), but a whole state full of cars does. Suing a car manufacturer would be equally futile: they aren't at fault, after all, they just produced a product the consumers wanted (a typical libertarian argument). What I'm getting at is that pollution is really a sum of many tiny parts. Frequent lawsuits and strict defense of property rights can't even touch the vast number of these tiny little parts. This is where a broader regulation is needed to attempt to reduce all of the tiny parts, thereby reducing the whole.

Second, my opponent does not grasp the disconnect between Adam Smith's economics and environmentally sound policy. My opponent uses the example of drilling in ANWR, saying that if oil companies prevail, it is because the economy places more importance on oil than on the environment. However, what is economically favored is not always what is best for society, the fatal flaw in the libertarian system. Oil companies could surely muster more than enough money to buy ANWR, and they could do it much faster than environmental groups could even begin to rally financial support. Remember, of Fortune 500 richest corporations, three of the top five are oil companies. If all restrictions were removed, there would be, without a doubt, drilling in ANWR. But would that drilling be in the public's best interest? This is why we elect government leaders, who respond to public demands and create policies and regulations that follow with the public's desires.

Finally, my opponent ignores history and human nature. If property rights work so well, why did anyone ever call for more regulation? Let me remind everyone that there was a time in the U.S. history when we didn't have environmental regulations. Industry flourished in the late 19th century in a nation that had no environmental laws. And people were free to sue if their property was damaged. But this litigation did not happen on a large scale.

It is human nature to avoid conflict; people just moved farther and farther away from industrial metropolises like my native Cleveland, where the sky was black with smoke from countless steel mills and factories. The wealthy didn't fight; they moved to the country. Those who are educated and have means are more likely to flee than to fight, and those with no means and little education are in no position to wage lengthy legal battles against well-prepared foes.

The drive for fast profit is also well ingrained in human nature. My opponent writes that no one would destroy their own property because that would render it worthless. That is certainly true in the long run, but that is not how many people think. I frequently go to Youngstown, Ohio. It is a wasteland today, with skeletons of abandoned, rusting steel mills dominating the skyline. 70 years ago, it was a booming metropolis, and the steel mills, all 37 of them, were belching thick, black smoke that covered the landscape. The land under the steel mills was worthless because of pollution, but at the time, no mill operator was considering selling. They were in it for the great profits in making steel, and they never looked to the future to consider what the land was worth. Human nature is to make fast profit, and often environmental destruction and fast profit go hand in hand.

In light of all this, my opponent's argument is looking weak. There is a clear need for environmental regulations to control what businesses and industries do. Further, environmental regulations are a way to reduce non-point-source pollution, a type of pollution my opponent's system cannot address. Don't be deluded by a libertarian's oversimplifications. We truly do need environmental regulations.
clsmooth

Con

First, let me say your responses were thoughtful and well-reasoned. This will be a debate unlike most here at Debate.org!

Let me respond to some of your points:

1. Just because an idea is simple does not mean it is wrong. Complexity of ideology leads to the belief that common people cannot make decisions for themselves -- a recipe for fascism and dictatorship. You are essentially making an argument for an elite of central planners to overrule popular sovereignty -- a "benevolent" dictatorship, but a dictatorship nonetheless. This is what takes hold when central governments override popular opinion as expressed through the most democratic means available -- the market. If the market is "wrong" -- if people value oil more than preservation -- then how does an elite cabal know it is "right"? What has been the success rate of central planning over history?

2. Under a regime of absolute property rights, the "right" to pollute the air would not exist. Period. Polluting the air -- unless it could be somehow magically confined to your own air space -- would be a crime. Lawsuits would be one remedy, but criminal prosecution would be another. When a criminal trespasses -- and the act of polluting is a trespass -- you don't necessarily sue him; you seek criminal penalties. You claim to be making an "environmentalist" argument, but in reality, you are making the status-quo argument for pollution and against a clean environment.

3. Oil companies are corporations with publicly traded stock. The purpose of such corporations is NOT to make "profits" -- this is a common liberal misconception reinforced by the socialist school system. For instance, private oil companies sacrifice profits in favor of research & development, etc., whereas socialist (state-owned) oil companies spend less on R&D, and squander oil revenues on what are the equivalent of dividends -- welfare transfer payments to their citizens. No CEO really cares about "profits" -- profits are just a contributing factor to market capitalization. The purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value, and that is done through sustainable, long-term growth. This is why the private oil companies invest more in the future growth of their companies. POINT BEING: You can trust a private oil company to extract oil in the most sustainable manner possible. Not because they are moral or good, but because it is beneficial for them to do so. A company with high profits but no sustainable future has its stock discounted deeply, and that works to the detriment (and quick termination) of the officers of the corporation.

THE EXCEPTION OF THE ABOVE is when the government regulates or controls. If the government "allows" a private company to drill on socialist (public) land, then yes, the company will take advantage of that "right" and get in and get out as quickly as possible -- before the political winds change. They will ravage the land the same way the 19th and early 20th century coal companies did on lands they were given "permission" by the government to mine. But if they own the land, it only makes sense for them to maximize long-term value, and to have the land continue being an asset into perpetuity.

IF, however, the public valued the unspoiled land more than the oil, then the land would NOT be "exploited" (in the literal, non-pejorative sense of the word). After all, the public is the group that would be PAYING for the oil that was extracted -- otherwise, it would be unprofitable for the oil company to do so. Activists could rally together and outbid the oil companies, who would only bid so high as the market told them to bid. When you say government needs to step in and overrule the market, you are making the argument for an elitist dictatorship -- a reverse Marxism, which I think is even worse than the original.

4. The time prior to environmental regulations cannot be used as an example of what a world with perfect property rights would be for several reasons. (1) The spoilers of the land did not fully comprehend the damage they were causing to other people's property, or even to their own. Now we know. (2) The government was far from laissez-faire -- it was in cohoots with big business at the expense of "the common man." I am not arguing for corporatism, but for pure laissez-faire capitalism and absolute property rights. REGULATIONS ARE PERMISSIONS TO POLLUTE -- permissions to trespass on your neighbor's land and potentially cause his death. That's wrong.
Debate Round No. 2
Vlast

Pro

I wasn't aware that we live in a dictatorship. My opponent seems to believe that the United States government is controlled by some despot hell-bent to force good, hard-working Americans to comply with his outrageous rules. Perhaps my opponent slept through fourth-grade social studies.

America is a democracy. The true power still resides in the people, not in some despot. Environmental regulations are supported by the vast majority of Americans, which is the only way the government is able to enforce them. My opponent apparently believes that any sort of government edict is evidence of totalitarianism; in reality, government regulations are responses to popular demands for more regulation.

My opponent says that the government has no business overriding the popular forces at work in the market. Of course, the government does have to be careful when tampering with the economy, but certain regulations are needed. This is because what is profitable and cheap and what is ecologically sound usually don't go hand in hand.

There are usually substantial external costs involved in industrial processes. An external cost is a cost that accrues to a third party not involved in a transaction. For example, a company producing plastics is left with all sorts of chemical wastes, most of which are dangerous, confirmed carcinogens. The cheap way of disposing those wastes is to just flush them down the sewer, which is what manufacturers did for years. And why not: it was a cheap way of getting rid of useless wastes.

But as the plastics industry grew, the nation became more densely populated, and scientists began doing more environmental research, the true costs of this were discovered. Waterways, both publically and privately owned, were severely damaged. Benzene, PCB, formaldehyde, and mercury were destroying all ecosystems they touched. Consumers, who just wanted cheap plastics, had no idea of the real cost of the plastic products they were buying. James Gustave Speth, Yale professor of economics, writes in his book, "Red Sky at Morning, America and the Crisis of the Global Environment," that the cost of many products would be at least 50% higher if the external costs were figured in.

The market is often right. But it is capable of misallocations, miscalculations, and misunderstandings. After all, the market is made up of regular people. The market doesn't place much of a price on clean water, healthy biotic populations, and biodiversity, but these are some of the most important facets of a healthy environment. When science tells us that a certain action is causing serious harm to the environment, that action needs to be controlled, regardless of how the market feels about it. DDT was cheap, worked great, and brought increased productivity to American farms. But it was extremely hazardous to man and the environment. However, if the market had its way, we would still be using DDT because the use DDT wasn't causing nearly the same level of economic destruction as it caused biotic destruction.

My opponent believes that corporations and individuals can regulate themselves because it is not in their self interest to pollute their own land. That is certainly true, and any responsible person or corporation knows that. Trouble is, not everyone is responsible. People and corporations make mistakes, have vendettas, and can be deluded. If everyone is responsible and thought things out, why do we have to bother with prisons and law enforcement? With the deadly and potent brew of chemicals now available to industries, it only takes one bad apple to destroy an entire area.

Most corporations are responsible, and ecological awareness is much more of a force than it was 20 years ago. Those corporations have nothing to fear from basic, intelligently implemented environmental policies. These policies exist to provide ground rules in order to ensure that the environment is not seriously damaged by irresponsible individuals or corporations. Let me say again, these were not put in place by a power-hungry despot, but by a democratic government responding to the desires of the masses, who overwhelming favor basic environmental regulations. If my opponent disagrees with the desires of the masses, he may do so. But he must understand how a democratic system works.

My opponent also did not address the fundamental flaw in his plan. That is, that his plan has no ability to control non-point-source pollution. We are all responsible for destroying the environment—anyone drive a car lately? My opponent says that this would be criminal. How on earth does he propose sending every car-driving, furnace-owning, computer-using American to prison for damaging property?

The trouble with his plan is that is it would have worked in about 1750, but, in case anyone hasn't noticed, it isn't 1750 anymore. The libertarian environmental system applies well to a spread-out, agrarian society; much like this nation was when it was founded. At that time, the biggest sources of pollution were cooking fires and horse manure. A man could easily sue his neighbor if that neighbor's manure pile was contaminating a farm pond.

That time, while nostalgic and much more environmentally sound, has passed. The nation has grown in population almost ten-fold. Cars, planes, trains, and buses have replaced horses and buggies. Apartment buildings have replaced farm fields. Electric power has replaced wax candles. Plastic and metal have replaced wood and hides.

Much has changed, and a system based on a lightly-populated, agrarian nation wouldn't work. Most citizens are not biologists, and they wouldn't even recognize the signs of environmental deterioration, which is generally characterized by extreme gradualism, on their own properties, much less have the time or energy to file complex, expensive, and lengthy lawsuits against well-prepared foes. Our nation's founders included the elastic clause in the Constitution to allow our nation's government and its policies to keep up with change. Why would my opponent ignore this?

We have seen that environmental regulations are important. Most people are driven to destroy the environment, but we all engage in actions that, when multiplied by the millions doing those actions, cause serious environmental harm. The libertarian system of lawsuits and prosecution my opponent advocates would not be able to limit the effects of these myriad non-point sources; these sources are the largest contributors to pollution. Environmental regulations are necessary to preserve the quality of life everyone is entitled to. Don't let a libertarian fool you with simple, nostalgic talk—it is about as sturdy as a house built in quicksand. Our nation has grown up in 250 years. Would any adult try to wear the same pair of shoes he had when he first walked? Of course not, so why would we try to use a system that was already out of date when Lincoln strode into the Oval Office?
clsmooth

Con

1. You are engaging in smear tactics. Where do I say that the United States is a dictatorship? Nowhere. There are dictatorial elements in American society. Do you doubt this? Ask anyone who's ever had a run-in with the IRS. Regulations not authorized by the Constitution are dictatorial. But while I oppose regulations for that reason, it isn't the main thrust of my argument. My main point is: REGULATIONS GIVE PERMISSION TO POLLUTERS TO POLLUTE THE LANDS OF THEIR NEIGHBORS, and that is criminally wrong.

2. America was never intended to be a "democracy," but a constitutional republic. The founding fathers uses "democracy" as an epithet, similar to how one would use "fascism" today. That's because they knew democracy amounted to "tyranny of the majority," while a constitutional republic limited the government and secured individual rights. Over the past 150 years or so, we have moved further and further away from this model, and environmental regulations -- which allow corporations to pollute the land, water, and air -- are just one example of why democracy is a false god.

3. Who cares what is profitable? Small businesses and self-employed sole proprietors, yes. Major corporations -- the big polluters -- no. Their purpose is to maximize shareholder value. Shareholder value is the present value of discounted future cash flows. Slash and burn is a recipe for a bearish stock -- unless the slashers and burners don't own the land they're slashing and burning. You have sidestepped this argument either because you agree (and thus concede defeat in this debate), or because you don't understand it. Either way, you lose. AND TO BE CLEAR: I don't "trust" corporations to not pollute OTHER people's land -- the government can and should prevent that. I just trust them not to pollute their OWN land, because it makes no economic sense for them to do so.

4. I fully understand external costs. I am for a legal system based on consent. If I and another party engage in a transaction that has a spillover effect that violates your property rights, then that transaction is criminal -- unless we obtain your consent. The government has no right to make your consent for you.

5. Was DDT harmful to people's property? Then it would not be legal under a libertarian property-rights regime.

6. Under a legal system of libertarianism, clean-burning alternatives would have had to have been developed by the time it was discovered that burning fossil fuels created un-containable pollution. If such a regime would be implemented today, then individuals would have to bring suit where they thought their rights had been violated. Juries would decide. (Of course, you're against the REAL democracy of jury justice, and for the elitist dictatorship of government bureaucrats overriding the people's power). The result: Alternative technologies would have to be created. Right now, the very unlibertarian policy of subsidizing and protecting oil companies works to the detriment of alternative-fuel developments.

7. If the Constitution is out of date, as you say it is, then it should either be amended, or abolished altogether. WHAT IS THE "ELASTIC" CLAUSE? There is no such thing. A Constitution is only as good as it is rigid -- that is the entire point of a Constitution, to strictly limit government. Lincoln, one of the worst tyrants to ever ascend to the office of president, violated the Constitution to such an extent that it has effectively ceased being relevant since -- this, I admit. But we still have a Constitution, and it should be obeyed by the government, should it not? By your logic, we should simply abolish the Constitution and have a more open and honest "democratic" dictatorship, and stop pretending that we are a nation of laws. This is the leftist, environmentalist, globalist position, after all, and it is shared by your supposed "rivals," the neocons. Both camps are against the Constitution, for global government, and bicker only over the details. Whether I'm debating a supposed "liberal" or a supposed "conservative," it goes the same way.
Debate Round No. 3
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by clsmooth 6 years ago
clsmooth
In the long run. But in the long run, we're all dead.

Maximizing short term profits can destroy long-term future value.

Consider this hypothetical: I can either a) Extrac $500 million worth of oil from a piece of land today, and leave it utterly worthless or b) extract $25 million worth of oil each year in a sustainable manner for the next 110 years.

If it's all about profits, then I should do "a." But it's not.

Take it another way: If profits = shareholder value, then every stock would have the same P/E ratio. They obviously don't. A stock in a dying industry may have higher profits but be worth less than a stock with no profits in a growing industry. Example: Steel companies, railroad, etc. earn much higher profits per $1 of stock price than, say, Google or eBay, etc. Why? BECAUSE OF FUTURE PROSPECTS. Thus, running a business in a sustainable manner = greater future value, which is the entire point. Slash and burn is bad for shareholder value.
Posted by Vikuta 6 years ago
Vikuta
CLS,in the long run, aren't "maximizing share-holder value" and "maximizing profit" the same thing?
Posted by Logos 6 years ago
Logos
God, I thought my debates got ugly! Debate.org should add a steel-cage section. Although this was a very good debate to read, I can't decide who to vote for. I agree with clsmooth in principle, but he and Vlast fought equally well.
Posted by clsmooth 6 years ago
clsmooth
You are correct, I misread your comment. My apologies.
Posted by Vlast 6 years ago
Vlast
Hold on there. I said that any legal scholar would not dispute that the elastic clause exists. If my opponent had read further, he would have seen that I moderated, writing that legal scholars do disagree about how widely it was intended to be interpreted. But even the strictest constructionist would not say that it doesn't exist. Because if he did that, he would be ignoring the phase that has been allowed the government to take on its current appearance, regardless of whether he agrees with the current government structure. If someone claims that Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution doesn't exist, we should be questioning whether they have the reading skills to pass first grade.
Posted by clsmooth 6 years ago
clsmooth
"Any legal scholar" would disagree that the Constitution empowers the Congress to make any laws it wants to? Um, no.

My opponent has the audacity to say that there are NO LEGAL SCHOLARS who believe in strict constructionism and the original intent. Wow. That's a divorce from reality even greater than most liberals and neocons (as if there's a difference).
Posted by Vlast 6 years ago
Vlast
I cannot stand by what my opponent writes in his 7th point. There is a clear statement in Article One, Section Eight of the US Constitution. It reads: "The Congress shall have power …To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution." This has been called the "necessary and proper clause" or "the elastic clause," and any legal scholar would disagree with my opponent's assertion that there is no elastic clause. The great strength of our Constitution is the latitude it gives the government to be flexible in response to new and changing situations. Of course, legal scholars disagree about how widely it was met to be interpreted, but it certainly exists.
Posted by Vlast 6 years ago
Vlast
I agree; it was a very good debate. I don't know that we have come any closer to agreement, and there is so much left to say, but I believe we certainly cleared the air with some real, intellectual discussion. I'm happy to debate you anytime.
Posted by clsmooth 6 years ago
clsmooth
Good debate, Vlast.

(Your comments must be at least 25 characters in length.)
Posted by Vlast 6 years ago
Vlast
One correction that I simply must make:

In my last paragraph, I write: "Most people are driven to destroy the environment..."

That should be: "Most people aren't driven to destroy the environment..."

Without those two extra letters, the meaning is totally different. I am a perfectionist, and I couldn't let such a mistake stand.
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